CART Media Conference
T.E. McHALE: Thank you. Good morning to everybody. Welcome to the CART media teleconference. At this time I'd like to welcome Cal Wells III, co-owner of Arciero-Wells Racing, who would like to make an announcement.
CAL WELLS: Good morning. I appreciate everyone joining us this morning. In an attempt to clarify Arciero-Wells' plans for the upcoming season, 1998, we're happy to announce that we've added to our already stellar lineup of Max Papis and Hiro Matsushita, Robby Gordon, a driver that's going to compliment our ever evolving program this year by racing several events for Arciero-Wells in 1998 and beyond. We've signed a multi-year agreement with Robby to help us in our partnership with Toyota in developing the Toyota champ car power plant and are looking forward to working together. As some of you may or may not be aware I've known Robby for many, many, many years, since he was five years old. His father and I actually won the Baja 500 together, back in the early '80s. We're from the same town, Orange, California, have been good friends for a long time, and it's my pleasure to welcome Robby Gordon back to Team Toyota and Arciero-Wells.
T.E. McHALE: Thank you, Cal, I should point out at this point we are also joined by the other co-owner of Arciero-Wells, Frank Arciero. Frank, was there anything you wanted to add to what Cal just said?
FRANK ARCIERO: No, I think Cal did a good job, I'm just really happy because, as Cal said, Robby and our family are good friends, also. We go back to when he used to race motorcycles. And I was fortunate enough to drive with his dad. And his dad wanted Robby to get into four-wheel vehicles, and I was asked if I could team up with Robby at one of the off-road races, and I said, gee, I'd love to. And me and Robby won the Frontier 500, I think, in '84 or '85, and I think it was the first professional win for him, so it was really a great honor for me. And to watch his career develop as it has, and to have him come back to where his roots are is something special to all of us. We're excited about this year and all the input he's been able to give back to us in the test program.
T.E. McHALE: Thank you, Frank. Robby is with us, as well. Some background on him before questions. Robby Gordon is a five year veteran of the FedEx Championship Series, having competed regularly from 1992 through 1996. He owns two victories and four pole positions in '71 career starts in the series. Both of his victories came in 1995, at Phoenix, and at Detroit, where he won from the pole. He finished 5th in both the 1994 and '95 PPG Cup standings, while driving for Derrick Walker Racing. His most recent start in the series came in the 1997 season finale at California Speedway where he started 13th and finished 8th, while driving for Hogan Racing. He's spent most of last season competing with Team SABCO on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit.
Q. Robby, just wanted to ask if you were starting to get a little nervous at all? This is pretty close to the start of a new season and where you're starting to wonder if you were going to have a job this year or not, or has this been in the works quite a while?
ROBBY GORDON: I really wasn't that nervous. We had a couple of things we were working on and this is something we've been talking about for a couple of months now, and it finally came out together. We went out to Homestead and did some testing and right after that we put the program together.
Q. One other question, if I could, it was alluded to earlier that you're going to drive selected events this year, is there a schedule put together, do you know at this point when you'll drive your first race and how many races you'll be driving this year?
ROBBY GORDON: That's not definite yet. We're still trying to work that out. I think the first thing we're going to do is go down to Homestead and do some testing in spring training and take it from there, and see how the program is heading.
Q. Robby, a little tough question for you, once upon a time, I think it was Mid-Ohio you expressed some displeasure in the engine compartment. I was wondering if you learned other ways to channel your feelings about how much horsepower or something is coming out?
ROBBY GORDON: Well, it's unfortunate you bring up the old stuff, but it's okay, I think I can handle that. After the season I went through last year, it was very difficult and I learned to deal with a lot of different things. I know that Toyota has the commitment behind the power plant and they're going to get there and I believe in their program. So we'll take it from there and try to be as competitive as we can week in and week out.
Q. Again, just sort of a nuts and bolts question, on those occasions where Robby is running, I guess this would be to Cal, would you -- do you envision this being in addition to the cars for Max and Hiro or would it be, still be a two-car entry or just how is it all going to be put together that way?
CAL WELLS: Well, certainly provided all our athletes stay healthy, we'll have to add a third car on selected events. We haven't figured out all the details of how we're going to be applying our various and assorted athletic talent and the various and assorted development responsibilities Toyota would give us this year. We should sort that out before the season starts. We wanted to get going now, and since Robby was sorting through a series of very viable options not only in CART but in Winston Cup, I felt we had to seize the moment. I've been trying to work with Rob ever since 1989 when he took the opportunity to go develop his craft on pavement, out of off-road, and the timing was perfect for us to get back together, but that timing was slipping away. So Rob did have to make some decisions. He had several options that were excellent. But to give him an opportunity to kind of focus his life a little bit, focus where we were going, we felt we better pull the trigger now. That's why we don't have all the T's crossed and I's dotted just yet. But we will before the end of February.
Q. I guess, Robby, if I could just ask you sort of a question, more about how it feels to be coming back to an environment obviously with Cal and the Arcieros, where this isn't just "another team", not to sound too corny, but it's almost like coming back into a family situation, where you go back many years, and there's a lot of support and a lot of -- and just a lot of confidence, a lot of mutual confidence and respect going both ways there.
ROBBY GORDON: Yeah, I think I'm very comfortable coming back into this organization. I haven't seen anybody recently that prepares a race car like Cal Wells does. He's very detailed, very organized, he's got some great personnel here. So I've got a lot of confidence in the team, and I think that's going to let me push the car a little deeper into the corners and drive it harder and be more competitive.
Q. I guess for Robby, how do you think your skills and Max's match up; are you complimentary, are you similar, do you have different approaches?
ROBBY GORDON: I think every driver has definitely a different approach. As far as skill I think Max definitely has the talent, we were testing in Homestead and he was very quick. I'm excited to work with him, I'm excited to work with the team. I think that we'll be able to share information back and forth, driving styles. Everybody is a little different how they enter the corner, when they get on the gas, but we're pretty equal down in Homestead.
Q. Obviously, Cal said this was a multi-year deal. You've got to be thinking at some point you're going to be driving the full champ car schedule for Arciero-Wells Racing?
ROBBY GORDON: Maybe not this year, but we're looking at the long-term program, develop the engine this year, and hopefully be able to win the championship or go for a championship in '99.
Q. I was just wondering, Cal, there was talk there, Robby spoke about testing with Max down in Florida, would you suggest that Hiro is going to come back on the driving and maybe concentrate more on administrative or on the technical side of your team?
CAL WELLS: Well, we've actually expanded our relationship with Pacific Creative and Hiro Matsushita. Hiro has a company that manages the various and assorted sponsorships that Hiro is involved with. We've expanded our relationship with Hiro. And we're going to be working with an Atlantic program here in the future that we're quite excited about, that will mirror our MCI Atlantic program. So we're going to have some big cars and little cars. Hiro is going to devote some time to that. He obviously has quite a bit of business interest here in the United States. Our plans at present are unchanged, Hiro will be at spring training and continue to run with us as he has in the past.
Q. But he will, of course, and perhaps Max, too, cut back from the number of drives he had, because of Robby's admission to the team?
CAL WELLS: I think at present it's tough to speak of what Hiro's plans are going to be. We've got a lot of opportunity with Hiro and his company. We've done a lot together. We're focusing on this new Atlantic opportunity, to be honest with you. I want to instill the fact that we're expanding our relationship with Hiro, we're not in any way stepping it down. Hiro's future driving as an athlete is something that he'll obviously decide on his own. But currently we fully expect to continue with Hiro, not only as an athlete but a number of expanded areas within the organization, in our racing relationships together.
Q. I have a couple of questions. One is this, it's been published that Hiro will use the Swift chassis, his own chassis, and being that he uses this, how about the Toyota, what's the situation technically speaking of the Toyota now?
ROBBY GORDON: Well, I've only driven the car one time for two days down in Homestead, and the drivability was very good. The boost control was good. All the symptoms are good. The motor actually runs very smooth. I think with a little bit of time we'll get more rpms out of the engine, and it will get more competitive and hopefully be a podium engine.
Q. So, the news about Hiro will use his own chassis is not true?
ROBBY GORDON: No, we're actually going to run Reynards in '98.
Q. I have a question for Cal. How much does this accelerate the program, adding Robby as an R & D driver?
CAL WELLS: I think that -- well, I know that Robby's history in CART is understanding and actual infield practice of utilizing various and assorted power plants, being involved with Ford electronics and the Ford factory program and the challenges that he faced there, but also the benefits of understanding that development program are all going to be tremendous assets. And I believe that it will allow an additional stream of information. This will take Toyota's drivers to five in CART this coming year, and those multiple inputs are real critical. But the two super competent drivers that are currently driving for All-American Racers, PJ Jones and Alex Barron, and of course our own two, we're very proud of, Max Papis and Hiro Matsushita, with Robby joining that, Robby actually has more real world multi-level experience than the balance of the drivers, and he's going to be able to bring that additional input, that additional level of understanding which we believe will accelerate Toyota's data base, and subsequently accelerate the development of the program. We think it's a critical addition to the entire Toyota effort when it comes to getting where we feel -- not only where we need to be, but that continual development that's going to be required to be competitive in the most competitive open wheel series in the world.
Q. How long is he under contract for?
CAL WELLS: We have a multi-year agreement, that has several options. I hope he'll ultimately be under contract for the rest of his driving career; that will ultimately be dictated by what kind of a platform I can provide for him and how well we do.
Q. Is there any plans to add a third car permanently, and do you have any sponsorships lined up, anything along those lines?
CAL WELLS: The sponsorship and the details about that we're about a month away, there will be selected events that we'll have a third car, based on the developmental opportunities that come our way with Toyota. Specifically how long that will be going on, again, we'll be prepared to announce in probably another month.
Q. Cal, how many races would you ideally like to run Robby in this year?
CAL WELLS: As often as we can. Again, it's really going to be dictated by this development program that's happened through Toyota and TRD. I'm assure you're aware of the changes that have happened to TRD; the addition of a general manager in Lee White, his vast experience in all levels of motor sport and all categories of motor sport has given him a real -- has added to TRD in the green flag, checkered flag, got to get it done now kind of approach to things. And he's going to be -- we're going to be partnering him, I guess I should say, in taking the latest opportunities and developing them in a fashion that doesn't put at risk the entire effort. And how that evolves over the next couple of months still has to be decided. Toyota is tremendously committed to success this year, and how the evolutionary components and developments of the engine are, as you know, ever fluid, so that's why I can't make a commitment today on what we'll be doing, exactly.
Q. How close will the motor be to being competitive in the start of the season?
CAL WELLS: Well, I don't know. I believe that we can be competitive in certain situations now. CART champ car racing is the most competitive series in the world, no doubt. If you look at the grid, with one or two exceptions everybody is a potential race winner, it just depends on the day, depends on the weather and it depends on who has the right setup for that particular weekend. So I am confident that Team Toyota and all five drivers can find their time to be competitive this year. And I think you'll actually see a surprising amount of competitiveness beginning in the season, and continue on up the grid as the season moves on.
Q. Have you had the opportunity to test the new motor yet?
CAL WELLS: We've done preliminary durability test last week, and that engine will be run again, really for the second time, I believe for the second time down in Homestead next week. I want to stress on the new engine is in its infancy involving development. We're going to be doing a lot of component testing, we will not be doing pure horsepower testing there. We're saving that for tracks that are more conducive to measuring where power is and have an opportunity to take our time and think about it. Spring training is pretty hectic, and we weren't to be able to go there with a package that allows us to learn as much about the chassis as it does about the engine.
Q. One for Robby; how bad was it over there last year? Mr. Phillip's question alluded to kind of like coming home to a bit of family course with Frank and your off-road background. Was it as bad as the reports had and was it not one of your better, I guess, years of your professional life over there in racing?
ROBBY GORDON: It was definitely a two step backwards thing. It's unfortunate what happened down there. I thought I was going into something different. But I had a lot of fun racing Winston Cup. We had a pole in the third race out. It wasn't a disaster, we were competitive at times. And maybe we'll show up and hit a couple of them on a one off basis or something.
Q. My question sort of got asked there. I was going to ask you, Robby, if this was going to be a sole project or are you going to do other things Winston Cup, off-road, like that?
ROBBY GORDON: We're going to concentrate a lot on this program. If there's a weekend off that doesn't conflict with our testing schedule, we may show up on an off-road race. Probably not until the end of the year, actually not until the Baja 1000. And Winston Cup as time permits.
Q. Robby, the first question is for you. Everybody talks about the first year that Firestone came along in the development program and what Scott Pruett was able to do with that one year. Are you looking at this project in much the same way that should you be able to bring this program along with everyone else's assistance that another facet of Robby Gordon is developed?
ROBBY GORDON: We're going to do the best job I can to help bring this program along. Like you said, looking at the Firestone program, looking at the other engine manufacturers that won the championships the last two years, they started off slow and they came around. And I believe and I have the confidence that Toyota will get there with their engine program.
Q. Will it be difficult on the weekend that you're not in the car, will you be track side and will that be difficult for you to see everyone racing and you're standing there listening on the radio?
ROBBY GORDON: Yeah, I mean I always want to race, but we want to help build this team to a championship contender in '99 and do everything we can, so we're going to be there to support everybody, if we're not running.
Q. A question for you, Cal. When this program was being developed did you talk it over with Max and Hiro, what was their response?
CAL WELLS: Could you clarify that question one more time?
Q. When this program was being developed with Robby, did you talk it over with Max and Hiro and say here's what we're thinking about doing, and if you did so, what was their response?
CAL WELLS: Well, yes, I did. We spent quite a bit of time talking about it with both Max and Hiro. And both of them embraced the opportunity, particularly in Max's case. He really is -- last year really was his rookie season in CART champ car racing, and he was very into the ovals. And Rob's experience will really allow him an additional comparator, if you will, to see where he is capitalizing on his talent and where there's still opportunities to develop his skill. I think that Robby will compliment, will really support and push Max on the ovals, and I think Max subsequently will really assist in our overall chassis development on the natural road courses. Both of them are excellent street fighters, and I think that if one were to have a forte that's a little more developed, Rob on ovals and Max, actually from Europe, would have a gazillion miles on natural loop courses. It's my own opinion that we'll have certainly the equal of or better than any other driver lineup in CART. I've got tremendous confidence in the decision, and Max and Hiro both embraced that.
Q. Robby, let me build, if I may, on Paul's question and Cal's answer a little bit earlier, if you can describe your career path, I guess it would be like a Figure 8, very diverse and crossing back over itself. Here you come back and with more experience. Is there any one thing that stands out in your mind that you're able to bring back from your most recent year or two away that you hope to be able to use for everyone's benefit here?
ROBBY GORDON: There's a lot of different things. I'd say the last couple of years I've definitely grown up a whole lot, there's been some humility. And I think with the driving experience, driving for teams like Walker and Foyt and then going over to see how they do things on ovals all the time in Winston Cup, I think I can bring a lot of valuable information back to the team. But it's something that we're going to have to develop together, some things will work, some things won't. It's definitely going to be a team effort.
Q. First of all congratulations, Robby, it will be good to see you back in the paddock. To you, Cal, a question. How much can you talk about this Toyota engine development program? I'm hearing a lot of great stories of you're talking about component testing, I'm hearing that Toyota is going to various sources to drag racers for head designs, and for fuel pump design. Can you be a little more specific and talk about some of these components that are being designed and built for the engine?
CAL WELLS: I've been with Toyota now, well, this will be the start of my 17th year, and I've been involved in several development programs. But really Toyota racing development here in the U.S. and their companion in Japan, if you will, are really spiriting development of the engine. And our input is really more on what we feel the engine -- what we feel from our infield experience is required for Toyota to get not only on an equal playing field but continue to develop at a pace we hope slightly quicker than our competitors. So when it comes to the actual design of the motor, that's headed up by the very capable people at TRD. What we are apt to do and our function is to take the latest component development, any part of the power plant issue from new engines to old engines to different pistons, and do a lot of infield testing, prior to the race, and do additional testing during the race, to support Toyota's ever evolving program. As far as specific component development issues, I'm really not the right person to ask.
Q. Do you welcome the fact that Toyota somewhat changed their strategy by bringing outside people in and bringing in a general manager, you're looking at these as positive development issues, that are long overdue?
CAL WELLS: I wouldn't say long overdue, this is a design conceived and manufactured engine from Toyota Motor Corporation. And this year the engine's development is going to be spearheaded by TRD, USA. So there's a tremendous amount of American influence, but it is not an outside vendor or outside force program. Certainly there are multitudes of components that are manufactured worldwide and that need to be, because not any one particular manufacturer makes everything or makes everything the best. And Toyota's evolving understanding of this incredibly competitive series, this competitive formula has led them on the natural learning curve of what it takes. Had they gone out and rebatched something, actually they wouldn't have had to gone through that learning curve, but the intrinsic value engineering-wise and the fact they're doing it themselves would have been lost. So to that end I think that the changes are all positive and they are in the natural course of really establishing themselves in this formula.
Q. I have a question for Cal. You mentioned the exciting new Atlantic program. Can you be more specific?
CAL WELLS: Well, our existing Atlantic program that we ran last year was our first year. And we've now, as I believe you're aware, Swift is now the exclusive marquee for Atlantic chassis. They're just 20 minutes down the road from us. Obviously one of our athletes drives for us is heavily involved with Swift. So we feel a real close bond there. We've hired some people that will be able to announce, I would hope, in the next couple of weeks; one of them from Hiro's own organization, that we're pretty excited about. As far as the specific details of that I'll leave that for another conference at another time. We are pretty excited in our driver lineup and our chassis lineup and in our team evolution for the coming year.
Q. A question for Robby, I know that certainly your interest in the Indianapolis 500 continues, and wondered where that fits into the program in 1998?
ROBBY GORDON: It's not going to fit into the program in '98. It's a decision made from Cal, myself and Toyota. We'll revisit the program in 1999, but '98 is definitely out.
Q. Robby, you've alluded a couple of times to the problems of last year, the frustrations of last year, I guess, and even the last few years. How hard is it going to be for you to remain patient with coming into a situation that at best is going to be a year or two before it's really competitive? I've got to believe your competitive juices here are flowing a little bit and you feel you've got maybe something to prove. How hard is it going to be to wait to the opportunity to do that?
ROBBY GORDON: For one I don't think I'm going to wait for the opportunity to develop this. As far as patience, everyone knows I don't have patience. I have the commitment and the desire to win races. And I think that's something that is going to bring us to maybe victory lane sooner than later with this program. I know Cal is definitely a lot different as far as his patience goes, but he has the same commitment and desire to win.
Q. Robby, what kept you going through the lean times the last year or so?
ROBBY GORDON: I think the competitive desire to still try to be competitive. There was times last year that I wanted to throw my hands up, but I made a commitment to race Winston Cup, and until I went to Fontana to run the CART race I intended on racing all the rest of the Winston Cup races through 1997. The easiest thing to say here to clear all things up is Felix Sabates had things he thought he needed to do and I had things I thought I needed to do to prepare for 1998.
T.E. McHALE: I want to thank our guests, Cal Wells, Frank Arciero and Robby Gordon for joining us. Congratulations on your new agreement, gentleman, we wish you a lot of success in 1998 FedEx Championship series. Thanks for all of you joining us and we'll talk to you soon. Good afternoon.
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